We Killed Mangy Dog and Other Stories
We Killed Mangy Dog and Other Mozambique Stories (Nós Matámos o Cão-Tinhoso) is a collection of short stories by Mozambican writer Luís Bernardo Honwana. The book was originally published in Portuguese in 1964 and translated into English in 1969.
The book consists of seven stories, including one with the same title as the book: "Nós Matámos o Cão-Tinhoso" [We Killed Mangy Dog], "Papa, Cobra, Eu" [Dad, Snake, and Me], "As Mãos dos Pretos" [The Hands of Blacks], "Inventário de Móveis e Jacentes" [Inventory of Furniture and Effects], "A Velhota" [The Old Woman], "Nhinguitimo," and "Dina" [Lunchtime]. The writer, who is also a documentary filmmaker and photographer, wrote the novel when he was 22 years old, while a political prisoner of PIDE. According to Patrick Chabal, "Honwana greatly influenced the post-colonial generation of younger prose writers and has rightly been regarded as stylistically accomplished." The Mozambican world is at the center of analysis in each of his narratives. Several of the stories are told from the point of view of children. The innocent and naive characters are used to expose "the inherent racism in the Portuguese colonial government." Honwana's stories were written for a greater purpose than entertainment and amusement. They "raise questions about social exploration, racial segregation, and class and education distinctions." Each character in every story represents a different social position (white Portuguese man, the assimilated black, the indigenous black, and mixed race).
Plot summary of We Killed Mangy Dog
This first and longest story in the volume is narrated by a young, black, assimilado boy named Ginho. He is marginalized and alienated by his peers in school and out of school. The other boys in the narrative all have different racial backgrounds: Quim is the white leader of the gang, Faruk is an Arab, Gulamo is Indian, and Xangai is Chinese. The story centers around Mangy-Dog (Cão-Tinhoso), a stray that is diseased, helpless, and dying. The narrator begins to identify with the dog, who is an outcast among other dogs, and develops compassion and sympathy for the mutt. One day, the narrator and the group of boys from his class are manipulated into killing the dog by Senhor Duarte. He presents the act as a kind of hunting game and appeals to them as a friend. Ginho is the one chosen to shoot the dog. Even though he is emotionally attached to the dog, he feels the pressure to eliminate the dog for the sake of being accepted. After many pleas with the other children, he is unsuccessful in trying to save the dog's life. The story ends as a guilty confession despite his reluctance to participate in the crime.
Themes and symbols
The meaning of the Mangy Dog
According to Pires Laranjeira, the story casts light on Mozambique's political situation of the time. He cites an interpretation (by Inocência Mata), according to which Mangy Dog represents a decadent colonial system that is in need of being destroyed in order to make way for a new pure society, free of discrimination and racism. Mata points out that Mangy Dog is shot to death with firearms, the same way that Mozambique gained its independence through the use of military force.
In the story "We Killed Mangy Dog", the dog is said to have blue eyes. According to Niyi Afolabi in The Golden Cage: Regeneration in Lusophone African Literature and Culture, this characterization is ambiguous. It can simultaneously point to the black colonial subject or to the European colonizer. Cláudia Pazos Alonso adds to that interpretation by stating that the blue eyes of the dog could symbolize a black assimilado.
The murder of the animal
The murder of Mangy Dog could symbolize a process of initiation into manhood. Many critics, including Pires Laranjeira, have explored this possibility. He states that in "We Killed Mangy Dog" Ginho and the others go through an initiation rite, or a kind of apprenticeship, in order to find affective solidarity.
Gender, race, and violence
In Lusophone Studies 2, a volume in a series published by University of Bristol, Mark Sabine analyzes the aspects of gender, race, and violence found in Honwana's short stories. According to Sabine, "Focusing almost exclusively on male protagonists and their humiliation and disenfranchisement, Honwana depicts colonial rule as the literal emasculation of Africa" (24).
Sabine describes the act of killing Mangy Dog as a "painful initiation into a grown-up social order" (24): "The killing constitutes a grotesque substitute for the elaborate rites marking a boy's passage to manhood in indigenous cultures" (34)."The aggressive effacement of the figure of the black patriarch not only necessitates the valorization of violence as 'manly', but also marginalizes the values which Honwana ascribes to an indigenous paradigm of masculinity: bravery, endurance, dignity and deference to elders" (25). Sabine also states that "Ginho's gang prizes physical prowess, power, and aggression". The reasoning behind it is that "Ginho lacked a role model who stresses the ideals of courage, leadership, compassion, and the dedication of physical strength." This lack of proper role model in addition to the "corrosive impact on an indigenous social order" led to the atrocious murder of the dog.
In the stories, the institutional denial of equal human rights to colonized Mozambicans is apparent and linked to the betrayal of an implicit promise based on shared masculine identity: "Men classified as assimilados or civilizados, who have assumed a Portuguese cultural identity on the promise of equal civil rights, might expect equal access to the patriarchal dividend" (29). Ginho is the victim of both racial and gendered discrimination when in the novel Quim and Gulamo call him "maricas" (sissy) and "Preto de merda" (you black shit) for not being able to kill Mangy Dog. In addition to being insulted with a racial epithet, he is emasculated by the other boys.
As Sabine also notes, "Honwana's women are most often not protagonists capable of acting and learning, but a social resource under the control of men" (42). There are three women in the story of Mangy Dog: Ginho's mother, his teacher, and his classmate Isaura. Ginho's mother attempts to discipline him but her protests are futile as he leaves the house with his father's rifle. Isaura attempts to stop the killing, but is yelled at by the boys' leader Quim and told to leave. Her values of compassion and pacifism are considered "feminine" by the boys and the colonial patriarchy they serve (Sabine 43).
- Chabal, Patrick, et al. The Post-Colonial Literature of Lusophone Africa. London: Hurst & Company, 1996.
- Ferreira, Manuel. Literaturas Africanas de Expressão Portuguesa. Lisboa: Ministério da Educação e Cultura, 1986.
- Africa's 100 Best Books of the 20th Century.
- Laranjeira, Pires. Literaturas Africanas de Expressão Portuguesa. Lisbon: Universidade Aberta, 1995.
- Afolabi, Niyi, The Golden Cage: Regeneration in Lusophone African Literature and Culture. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2001.
- Alonso, Cláudia Pazos. "The Wind of Change in Nós Matámos o Cão-Tinhoso". ellipsis 5 (2007).
- Sabine, Mark. ""Gender, Race, and Violence in Luís Bernardo Honwana's Nós Matámos o Cão-Tinhoso: The Emasculation of the African Patriarch". Lusophone Studies 2 (2004): 23-44.